Source: goodmenproject.com - by
Some friendships we let go of, some let go of us.
Some friendships we let go of, some let go of us.
I had a discouraging realization recently.
Many of my friendships aren’t going to last forever. I don’t know why or when I started believing they should, but on closer inspection, this is something I have felt for some time now.
This realization felt like I had just noticed an ancient tree I pass every day; its deep roots betraying my own surprise at its arrival in my awareness.
Mind you, not all friendships carry this expectation for me. Not the casual acquaintances or the location-based relationships that always just puttered along. I speak of the friendships I choose to actively engage in, to pursue.
As time has passed my belief in permanent friendship has cemented itself into a dangerous precipice on which I find myself standing more often than I’d like. It is neither possible for all friendships to last forever, nor is it healthy to believe they should. But my belief has become absolutely intractable, gradually and subtly calcifying my heart.
And I’m not sure what to do about it.
It is no secret as we get older, we lose as much as we gain. The conversations we have with our friends frequently revolve around the physical losses; a decreased flexibility or the inability to quickly bounce back from a night of drinking.
All of it is some sort of loss of ability. “I can no longer do X.”
While those losses can come as a surprise they quickly transition into a light hum of frustration, loud enough to be annoying, but soft enough so it becomes part of our daily noise pollution.
It is not these physical changes affecting me daily. Losing abilities is to be expected. Losing people almost always catches me off guard. I once read “It takes a long time to grow an old friend.” The older I get, the fewer opportunities there seem to be to plant enough seeds.
Yes, we are exposed to new circles of people when we join a new club, company, or community. But the leaving behind of those jobs, clubs or communities can mean those circles disappear much quicker than they were created. We lose friends at a rate faster than we can replace them.
Maybe this is natural. As we get older our world tends to narrow. We pair off and move from cities to suburbs, separate apartments to shared homes, transitioning away from dense centers of population while literally expanding the footprint of space which only we ourselves inhabit.
We go from knowing everything about our friends’ lives to getting regular updates, to conversations that start with “Did I tell you what happened last spring?”
It never ceases to amaze me how varied people’s relationships are. Some people find their life partner, pair off and essentially retreat to their own bunker, rarely to be seen again. Some partners become intertwined with other couples, having and raising children, socializing, and vacationing all together.
Whether the former, the latter or some hybrid in between, it has been my experience as time has passed, no matter how much I have cared for someone or how hard I’ve tried, it is increasingly difficult to hold on to them.
It’s a debilitating feeling.
My immediate concern is usually that I have done something wrong, said, or not said something, causing a rift. But as somebody who tries to be a semi-decent human being with no major drama in his life, the logic does not suggest every friend I have lost has been the result of my misdoing.
If it had, it would almost be easier to accept. If I knew there was something functionally wrong with me and how I behave, the way I emotionally neglect or abuse people, I would at least have an answer. But I have no evidence to that end.
The harder pill to swallow is this: Many friendships, perhaps most, just do not last. Due to time and circumstance friends simply drift, subject to the changing currents of life. We pay more attention to these currents when they separate us than when they unite us.
Which is to say so many relationships are the result of circumstance, to begin with, and those circumstances change as abruptly to cause endings as they do beginnings. But our minds rarely dwell on how good things are going or how positive our luck is. We simply wonder about the things we lose and can no longer have.
I wonder if others have been able to do a better job at maintaining friends than I.
The zen, who I do not know but have read about, say “The tighter you squeeze the less you have.” Which is to say I’m giving myself a kind of emotional arthritis. Perhaps it is my unrealistic expectations that need to change.
These expectations leave me questioning appropriate efforts. Am I trying hard enough? If I am, then why aren’t they? How long should I continue to reach out before giving up completely?
I feel hyper-aware of relationship dynamics at all times. It has not proven to be helpful. I imagine most people feel sadness at the loss of a friend. I can’t imagine they obsess over it.
The gradual deterioration of friendships is very much a part of life, whereas the lens through which I look has positioned it as something unnatural and preventable. Which brings us back to the fact that no friendship is guaranteed forever. They don’t have to be. Nor should they be. The length of a friendship is also no indicator of the quality of it.
It is clear the casual evaporation of ties between myself and others in my life would be better viewed as a function of time itself.
There is nothing stopping me from reaching out to those I have lost touch with, which I often do, but there is also nothing saying I need to be so confused or hurt when I no longer hear from them.
Different does not have to be inherently bad or good, it can simply just be.
This, however, does not always jive with some internal need I have to classify things. Is this thing living or dead? Worth my time or not? In so many areas of life, I love things that are neither black or white but grey. With friendships, the grey maddens me.
It is also selfish to think a friendship should continue to exist merely because I alone want it to. A friendship does not exist to serve only one person, it is there because it serves both people, otherwise, it is not a friendship at all. It is simply a parasite and a host.
The dissolution of friendships, while significant to me, doesn’t seem as significant for others. Some people simply see it as something that just happens. They don’t evaluate, worry, or try to contextualize.
Our encounters with others are extremely relative. There is no international standard for connection with another human being. It is not feasible for all to have the exact same expectations of friendship. We seek different feelings and are fulfilled by different experiences.
Sometimes, people just stop responding. For me, that is always what hurts the most.
When I was younger this hurt less. A friend would move or I’d lose their address or phone number. There was no way to find them, to look them up, or to contact them. And so even if they purposely avoided staying in touch, it became more of a mystery of the universe than something that felt deliberate. I could wonder if we would ever meet again and what that might be like.
Missed contact no longer means a letter that got lost in the mail. It doesn’t mean an answering machine never checked. Every communique is a tiny number 1 highlighted in red on a digital device in the pocket of your intended recipient.
Today you can call, text, email, and message somebody on social media all to no avail. The actions we take or don’t take have immediately apparent consequences. Silence used to mean many different things. Now it just means “no.”
That kind of deliberate silence is unambiguous.
It is easiest to be upset about lost friendships when one is not creating new ones. And creating new friendships does not get easier as we get older.
My senior year of college, my roommate and I came home from a social event in his used beige Cadillac. We were discussing the people we had been with that night as we pulled into our driveway and he said something to the effect of “We’re not looking to expand our friend circle.”
He spoke of us as some sort of private membership club whose roster was full. I didn’t say anything at the time. I was so baffled at how different our opinions were it incapacitated my speech. All I knew was I strongly disagreed.
While I have never really considered myself to be part of a “friend circle” I have always wanted to make new friends. Even if I’m not actively pursuing it… the interest remains.
At this moment, matching my actions to my interests feels like a better use of my energy than pining for lost connections.
I cannot control the inevitable disappearance of friendships, but I can always be curating, creating, and nurturing new ones in addition to the ones I have.
It is not hedging my bets, though I could understand how it would appear as such. If friendship is what I’m interested in, both the giving and receiving of it, then I must be actively involved in the creation of it,merely commenting upon its existence or disappearance.
The well of friendship is infinite. It does no good to spend my life peering over the edge, clutching my half-empty bucket.